Media Corner

Ag trade between Texas and Cuba promoted

May 29, 2003, South Central Texas Edition

By Monette Taylor | Country World News

May 29, 2003 -- Aspects of "Doing Business with Cuba" were detailed during a recent Texas-Cuba Trade Alliance (TCTA) meeting in Austin. Attendees heard from rice and grain producers, shipping companies, port facility executives, researchers, a former ambassador to Cuba, and even a lawyer.

 While the 40-year-old U.S. trade embargo is still in place, many believe its days are numbered, and preparations are being made to assist producers in selling Texas products as soon as possible.

 "Major Texas exports are expected to be rice, beef, chicken, softwood logs and lumber, fertilizers and wheat," said Dr. Parr Rosson, Texas A&M University professor and Texas Cooperative Extension economist, during the May 15 meeting.

The TCTA was recently formed to serve as a collective information hub for Texas producers and food processors wanting to export to Cuba.

 In 2001, new U.S. laws began allowing food shipments and agricultural sales to Cuba, as a result of the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000.

"While federal law currently allows the export of food and agricultural products to Cuba, there is low recognition and awareness of these opportunities," said Glen Jones director of Research, Education and Policy Development for the Texas Farm Bureau.

To raise awareness, members of the newly-formed TCTA are promoting the alliance, and welcoming new members interested in trading with Cuba. Some of the member organizations include the Center for North American Studies at the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station in College Station; the ports of Beaumont, Corpus Christi, Galveston and Freeport; Beaumont Rice Mills; Coastal Rice and Futures, Inc.; and the Texas Farm Bureau.

 A study by the Center for North American Studies estimated "potential food and agricultural exports from Texas to Cuba could reach $57 million, generating another $132 million in related business sales and 1,500 new jobs in the next three to five years."

At the present time, Cuba imports about $600 million worth, annually. Products include grain, meat, soybeans, vegetable oil, dairy products, eggs, apples, pears, and some vegetables.

 Because of the close proximity of Texas to Cuba (about 90 miles), it makes more sense for Cubans to buy from one of the top U.S. ag production states (Texas), and speakers at the May 15 meeting reiterated that consumers in Cuba favor U.S. products over other countries'.

 According to Rosson, in January/February of this year, soybean oil was the number one U.S. export, followed by poultry, rice, soybean residue and corn.

The economist also expects Cuba to import more beef, and prepackaged and frozen goods, as tourism develops in the country.

 "When we get those opportunities (to export goods) here in Texas, we need to be able to respond," said Rosson.

 The current trade legislation still calls for the use of U.S. dollars in Cuba, financing transactions, traveling to Cuba and limiting U.S. governmental assistance. Also, special licenses are necessary and strict federal laws and regulations are in place, according to information from the TCTA.

 Dr. Wayne Smith, former Chief of U.S. Interests Section, Embassy of Switzerland, Havana, Cuba, believes trade with Cuba should be made easier. He said the "biggest lobbyist in the United States" is the agricultural community.

 "It's time for politicians to take a new look. Farmers want to sell products to Cuba," he said.

 Smith surmises old policies no longer work, and what's good for business certainly isn't an embargo! He said the U.S. government needs to lift the travel ban and work for the majority of Americans, rather than a "declining minority."

 While many rules and regulations are already in place, those interested in getting into the import business with Cuba should make sure to "cross all the t's and dot all the i's," and to check with someone in the legal field before beginning the journey. Fines imposed on those who try to go "around the law" are said to be great, according to several speakers, including attorney Robert Muse of Washington, D.C.

 Principal agencies to contact for more information about regulations are the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA); the U.S. Department of State; U.S. Department of the Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control and the U.S. Department of Commerce's Bureau of Export Administration.

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